PGA Memory Management

The Program Global Area (PGA) is a private memory region containing data and control information for a server process. Access to it is exclusive to that server process and is read and written only by the Oracle code acting on behalf of it. An example of such information is the runtime area of a cursor. Each time a cursor is executed, a new runtime area is created for that cursor in the PGA memory region of the server process executing that cursor.

For complex queries (for example, decision support queries), a big portion of the runtime area is dedicated to work areas allocated by memory intensive operators, such as the following:
* Sort-based operators, such as ORDER BY, GROUP BY, ROLLUP, and window functions
* Hash-join
* Bitmap merge
* Bitmap create
* Write buffers used by bulk load operations

A sort operator uses a work area (the sort area) to perform the in-memory sort of a set of rows. Similarly, a hash-join operator uses a work area (the hash area) to build a hash table from its left input.

The size of a work area can be controlled and tuned. Generally, bigger work areas can significantly improve the performance of a particular operator at the cost of higher memory consumption. Ideally, the size of a work area is big enough that it can accommodate the input data and auxiliary memory structures allocated by its associated SQL operator. This is known as the optimal size of a work area. When the size of the work area is smaller than optimal, the response time increases, because an extra pass is performed over part of the input data. This is known as the one-pass size of the work area. Under the one-pass threshold, when the size of a work area is far too small compared to the input data size, multiple passes over the input data are needed. This could dramatically increase the response time of the operator. This is known as the multi-pass size of the work area. For example, a serial sort operation that needs to sort 10GB of data needs a little more than 10GB to run optimal and at least 40MB to run one-pass. If this sort gets less that 40MB, then it must perform several passes over the input data.

The goal is to have most work areas running with an optimal size (for example, more than 90% or even 100% for pure OLTP systems), while a smaller fraction of them are running with a one-pass size (for example, less than 10%). Multi-pass execution should be avoided. Even for DSS systems running large sorts and hash-joins, the memory requirement for the one-pass executions is relatively small. A system configured with a reasonable amount of PGA memory should not need to perform multiple passes over the input data.

Automatic PGA memory management simplifies and improves the way PGA memory is allocated. By default, PGA memory management is enabled. In this mode, Oracle dynamically adjusts the size of the portion of the PGA memory dedicated to work areas, based on 20% of the SGA memory size. The minimum value is 10MB.

For backward compatibility, automatic PGA memory management can be disabled by setting the value of the PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET initialization parameter to 0. When automatic PGA memory management is disabled, the maximum size of a work area can be sized with the associated _AREA_SIZE parameter, such as the SORT_AREA_SIZE initialization parameter.

When running under the automatic PGA memory management mode, sizing of work areas for all sessions becomes automatic and the *_AREA_SIZE parameters are ignored by all sessions running in that mode. At any given time, the total amount of PGA memory available to active work areas in the instance is automatically derived from the PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET initialization parameter. This amount is set to the value of PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET minus the amount of PGA memory allocated by other components of the system (for example, PGA memory allocated by sessions). The resulting PGA memory is then assigned to individual active work areas, based on their specific memory requirements.

Under automatic PGA memory management mode, the main goal of Oracle is to honor the PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET limit set by the DBA, by controlling dynamically the amount of PGA memory allotted to SQL work areas. At the same time, Oracle tries to maximize the performance of all the memory-intensive SQL operations, by maximizing the number of work areas that are using an optimal amount of PGA memory (cache memory). The rest of the work areas are executed in one-pass mode, unless the PGA memory limit set by the DBA with the parameter PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET is so low that multi-pass execution is required to reduce even more the consumption of PGA memory and honor the PGA target limit.

When configuring a brand new instance, it is hard to know precisely the appropriate setting for PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET. You can determine this setting in three stages:

1. Make a first estimate for PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET, based on a rule of thumb. By default, Oracle uses 20% of the SGA size. However, this initial setting may be too low for a large DSS system.
2. Run a representative workload on the instance and monitor performance, using PGA statistics collected by Oracle, to see whether the maximum PGA size is under-configured or over-configured.
3. Tune PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET, using Oracle PGA advice statistics.

The value of the PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET initialization parameter (for example 100000 KB, 2500 MB, or 50 GB) should be set based on the total amount of memory available for the Oracle instance. This value can then be tuned and dynamically modified at the instance level.

Assume that an Oracle instance is configured to run on a system with 4 GB of physical memory. Part of that memory should be left for the operating system and other non-Oracle applications running on the same hardware system. You might decide to dedicate only 80% (3.2 GB) of the available memory to the Oracle instance.

You must then divide the resulting memory between the SGA and the PGA.

* For OLTP systems, the PGA memory typically accounts for a small fraction of the total memory available (for example, 20%), leaving 80% for the SGA.
* For DSS systems running large, memory-intensive queries, PGA memory can typically use up to 70% of that total (up to 2.2 GB in this example).

Good initial values for the parameter PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET might be:
* For OLTP: PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET = (total_mem * 80%) * 20%
* For DSS: PGA_AGGREGATE_TARGET = (total_mem * 80%) * 50%
where total_mem is the total amount of physical memory available on the system.